Achiever nominees on the meaning of being Jewish
We asked some of the nominees how they felt about being nominated and what being Jewish meant to them.
Daphne Kuhn, of Auto and General Theatre on the Square, says it has always been her passion to uplift, enrich and educate the community by creating a venue and to provide work opportunities and present works that open up people’s minds, through the beautiful medium of theatre and music.
“Simultaneously I have tried to create a balance with a traditional Jewish home and values for my family and now grandchildren. I strive to be a “mensch” by perpetuating the ethics of our forefathers at home and in my entrepreneurial theatre business.”
In addition to new productions, she assists various Jewish and other organisations with theatre fundraisers, gives positive talks on the Jewish contribution to entertainment in South Africa – inspired by the luminaries, musicians and artists from Israel and elsewhere – and produces a multitude of works by local playwrights as well as international and Israeli writers.
“The theatre is my temple for which I have sacrificed but I am proud to say that Jewishness is part of my identity and the examples that I set for young and old alike.
“But I must hasten to add that I love matzah balls and bagels with lax, Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, Woody Allen and Nik Rabinowitz… Oy vey, I am more Jewish than I thought!
Allan Hirsch, CEO of Hirsch’s Homestore, is delighted at the nomination and “very excited about everything.
“It is sense of awareness of the hardship others went through, a sense of pride of what others have achieved.
“The reality is that no matter the hardship you face, or who you are, you can step up and achieve. Jews have a proud tradition and I am honoured to follow in the footsteps of many great leaders,” Hirsch said.
Reeva Forman, who has been nominated in the Europcar Woman in Leadership award category, holds several high-profile positions within the Jewish community.
“To be Jewish means to me, as a South African citizen and Zionist, to be proud of our heritage of values, ethics and tradition – a heritage of triumphs and tragedies – all bringing an understanding for the purpose of reaching out to the ‘other’ no matter the colour, creed or ethnicity – to help alleviate suffering – to be a ‘light unto the nations’.
She referred to a recent parsha in which we are told it is a double mitzvah to welcome the “proselyte” into our community. “This welcome extends to the stranger in our midst and to fight injustice, wherever we find it. This is the purpose of our being chosen by Hashem. To experience the joy in being part of this awesome responsibility, whether it is bread for the homeless, or working towards peace where there is conflict.”
Being Jewish also meant to experience the great joy of being with one’s own people, close family and friends -, “your ‘eigene’, who are all part of this great tradition”.
Ronen Aires, CEO of Student Village – a youth marketing agency – said he had mixed feelings when hearing of his nomination. “On the one hand, I was happy to receive validation by the Jewish community, while, on the other, I felt somewhat embarrassed.”
Aires feels being Jewish means having responsibilities “to be active in Jewish organisations which focus on uplifting the lives of Jews in the community as well as working through Jewish organisations that are trying to make South Africa better in the broader community.”
Aires sees his business as a “great platform” to live his Jewish values. “We are actively helping companies and also assist thousands of university students to find jobs.” This is in addition to working with Jewish organisations and upcoming entrepreneurs.
“For me it’s through business and personal endeavours how to use our influence to bring more chesed to the world.”
Niki Breger, co-owner of Nicci Boutiques, says she is “very flattered and truly humbled” to be nominated.
Breger, an observant Jewess, who keeps kosher and is shomeret Shabbat and shomeret mitzvot, describes herself as “very proud to be Jewish.
“I don’t compromise on my religion or participate in any business on Shabbat or festivals.”
Breger even turns down TV appearances or anything to do with work on Shabbat. “Those are my values and what I believe in.”
Breger, who is married with three children, feels that her beliefs have helped her in her success, even while operating in a non-Jewish world.
“I am blessed,” she says.
David Benjamin, CEO of Interact RDT, is “very excited” about his nomination. “I just don’t know who nominated me. I would really like to know.”
Benjamin believes Judaism transcends both religion and nationalism. Echoing Forman’s view that Jews should be “a light unto the nations”, he says being Jewish is about a sense of ethic and “doing things correctly”.
He incorporates his values into his business, a customer experience agency. “Jews should be steadfast in their own morals and ethics,” he says.
A “proud, traditional Jew”, he stresses the importance of family and close units which spill over into business.”
“We should position ourselves in this way.”